Business Translation Center

Does your business need a localization service?

by OFER TIROSH 15/02/2017

Localization services are often unknown to companies, even if those businesses regularly use professional translation as part of their operations. However, a good localization service can save a corporation from substantial reputational damage. As such, read on for a quick run-down of what localization is, how it complements translation and the consequences of getting it wrong.  

What are localization services? 

A localization company provides services that help businesses to convey their messages in other languages. While translation takes care of converting text into another language, localization goes one step further and considers the information from a local perspective. Cultural considerations are taken into account in order to establish whether the translation is likely to cause offence or unintended humour when presented to the intended audience. 

For example, if a perfume company was planning to release a new scent in Japan, calling it ‘Chanel number 4’ or ‘Chanel number 9’ would be a disaster. Four and nine are both unlucky numbers in Japan. Shi (四/し), the word for four, closely resembles shi (死/し), the word for death. Likewise, ku (九/く), which means nine, sounds very similar to ku (苦/く), meaning pain and suffering. A brand name that evokes death, pain and suffering is unlikely to be quite as popular as one that doesn’t! 

How translation and localization work together

The best approach for businesses looking to engage with audiences in other languages is to seek out a professional translation company that also specializes in localization. Ordering translation and localization services together can help to minimize costs and speed up timescales for the production of the finished copy. 

Using natives of the target language is essential to this process. Those who live and breathe the customs and culture of the country that the information is targeted at are best placed to identify any potentially contentious language within the document. 

When localization goes wrong

The internet is awash with examples of what happens when localization goes wrong. Despite the availability of professional localization experts, many large corporations still manage to cause offence or unintended hilarity with their multi-lingual approaches. This can do serious damage to a brand. 

Electrolux found this out way back in the 1960s, when the Swedish brand hoped to highlight it’s vacuuming power to US audiences. The slogan “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux” certainly made an impression! 

In the early 2000s, car manufacturer Honda also enjoyed a localization fail, when it launched its Honda Fitta in Sweden. Had management checked with a localization company, they would have discovered that fitta is a vulgar way of referring to a woman’s genitals in Sweden, Norway and Danish. Thus the Honda Jazz was born!  

More recently, Nintendo’s new Pokemon translation sparked protests in Hong Kong when it failed to take account of local concerns about Cantonese being diminished due to an influx of Mandarin-speaking migrants. 

Many, many more examples of such localization fails exist, highlighting the relevance and importance of localization services to all those companies who present their materials in other languages.